I spend way too much time on Twitter, which makes me see way too many bad opinions on a daily basis. It also immerses me too much in a mindset based more around groupthink than in observable reality. Leftist folks on Twitter commonly make the mistake of thinking that other people view the world through the lens of ideology because they do. Most people in the world, however, spend a lot less time thinking about politics than people on Twitter. They also tend not to ground every one of their political beliefs in a rigid worldview. People on the political left are constantly asking themselves "is this the leftist stance?" whenever they have a political thought. That's pretty alien to how most folks view the world.
Hence a lot of People on Twitter have been surprised at how quickly Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has gained a following among Democrats. People of Twitter use their ideological lens to classify rank and file Democrats as "centrists," usually as a way to distinguish themselves as more sophisticated. In their minds it doesn't make sense that "centrists" would flock to a self-described democratic socialist.
I'm not all that surprised, and if these people had properly understood the Bernie phenomenon they wouldn't be either. If you took the time and get off Twitter and talk to real people you'd realize that a lot of Bernie supporters were drawn to him as an alternative to the "establishment" and less for his policy proposals. His charisma also mattered a great deal, and it matters even more with Ocasio-Cortez.
She is a political natural, a truly generational talent. Ocasio-Cortez's social media presence is uniquely powerful, and wherever she goes she has an ability to distill leftist ideas in relatable and easy to understand ways. This talent has been sorely lacking among other Democratic politicians in recent years. It's not that she is "converting centrists," but that rank and file Democrats were always open to these ideas and just needed someone to articulate them and advocate for them.
This is a roundabout way of saying that the political left could gain a lot by focusing on how it talks to others. I still remember a leftist friend of mine actually attacking Ocasio-Cortez last year for not being a "real socialist." That kind of thinking is worse than useless. (It's also why I won't join the DSA even though I am in agreement with their program. I just can't stand all the posturing and holier than thou crap. I left the church for a reason.) It's a big reason why there are few people in this country who self-identify as leftists without having gone to grad school.
And while the left has a lot to learn from her example, the Democrats should also be paying attention. Their future is a return to social democracy as a core principle. It is a message that resonates with a party base that is tired of compromises and being afraid of fighting for what they actually want. Most of what is happening in the political world just makes me depressed, but the possibilities Ocasio-Cortez has opened are giving me hope.